We all want to know what’s going to happen next. We flip to the back of the book to see how many pages are left before we reach an ending. Some go so far to read the ending paragraph in hopes that there’s a clarity there for them that comes without the work of paging through the plot progression. Yet, anyone who’s waited out anything knows that there is no rushing the future. An ending can not be put down in a datebook and anticipated. If it could be so, there’d be no dodging it, and it would still be a hurdle you could only imagine how to leap over. The actual event would still be future tense, and still as uninterested in your anxiety over how it will glide into reality.
Even when you know something will end, the molding of the way an end becomes itself is slick as wet clay on a potter’s wheel. Its shape will be undefined; the lines will not form until the piece is dry and finished. This will not happen until the air around it deems that it has taken adequate measure of moisture in forming the piece. Try to accelerate the process with hot air; you’re only wasting breath.
I hate to give away the answer when so much comes from the process of seeking, but perhaps this is a hint that won’t mar the big reveal. Your worry and woe over the things unknown and looming comes down to one small burr that is not easily released, but in doing so will lighten all loads. You want control. But you might do better to learn to let it go. A desire to control your world, your future, the actions of others, and a combination of the glue that holds all things together is valiant in attempts to influence your end, but ultimately futile. I’m here to remind you that you will leave this life as naked as you came into it. There will be no wife and children to accompany you, no new business suit, or mansion estate. Yet, also there will be no loan payments, no feeling of malaise from a long illness that is as strong as it is microscopic, and no worry about an ending: it will have arrived.
After another hour and a half of hearing about Dr. Clem and his similarities and shortcomings as compared with my father, I kissed Mamma and told her I needed to make some calls, but I’d come back to take her home when she got the official release papers. She had the crossword out and a quarter of the way towards completion, and so she happily nodded and tapped the phone on her bedside in acknowledgement of calling when said event would occur.
I left the hospital and almost immediately swept myself to my apartment in Jersey. The process of traveling in this way was getting much easier, and almost as unconscious as the lull a long drive would produce on the seasoned driver. Listening to Mamma talk about her doctor this morning, I had decided that I would return to the apartment and and grab what things I “couldn’t live without,” and leave the rest to whomever wanted the things and the apartment itself. In this way, I would make my disappearance from the mortal world and my full immersion in the role of Death’s assistant and caretaker to my mother. It was something I actually felt positively about. It felt like a new life, but one I felt strangely familiar with.
Orpheus leapt from the ottoman at my sudden return into the middle of the living room, and rubbed my ankles with short mews of chastisement for my absence. I scratched behind his ears and along his cheek in a fond manner, as I went to my closet and pulled down both his carrier and my oversized dufflebag that hadn’t been put to use since high school when I had used it for overnight trips to away games when I played baseball.
I carried these bags to the living room again, and sat them on either side of Orpheus as he returned to a lounge position on the floor of the room. And then I looked around, and considered…what from this former life was worth taking with me into the next?
I looked along the mantel. There was a picture of my father and mother, dressed for halloween as dracula and his bride. Alongside this, there was a plaster cast of two hands put together in prayer that my grandmother had given my mother at her first communion, and she’d given me when I’d been baptized in middle school. There were dried flowers and figurines and a jar of bottle caps there as well that I had been keeping for some unknown reason. The picture and the hands went into my duffel bag.
On my bookshelf, there were many volumes that I’d planned on rereading someday. I kept them around in hopes that when I’d pick them up again, they’d still have that feeling of meaning that I’d first encountered by touching their pages. But also on the shelf was one of the journals I had kept in college. I flicked through its pages, paused briefly on a page and read its contents, and then threw it into the duffel bag with no more hesitation. I didn’t want anyone else to be subjected to the angst of those college years that got pressed in ink, and so this was an item that needed to be carried along with me simply to fulfill that duty. My high school yearbook was also on the shelf and it went into the bag out of the obligation that everyone feels to hold some small connection with that otherworldly time.
Looking around again, nothing else in the room or in my bedroom even seemed practical or sentimental enough to be worth carrying with me. I felt the tug of materialism press me to fill the bag with all it would hold, and take things that would comfort me as I fumbled with caring for an aged parent, but the much older part of me that was behind the wheel laughed at how silly that would be.
I did fill the rest of the bag, but it was with Orpheus’s cat treats; his felt mouse, wooly worm on a stick, and jingly ball; what was left of his bag of kibble; and a small pillow from my bed that he liked to sleep on. I opened a can of tuna and set it inside the carrier so that he jauntily entered and began to make himself one with the smelly delight I’d just set before him. I zipped him up inside, picked him and the duffel bag up, and only looked around one last time to see what time it was in the real world.
10:45 my clock said. Time for lunch. And I knew a cafe where I might find further piece of mind in weighing the knowledge of knowing the seemingly unknowable from someone who’d done that very thing perhaps several times before.
I was swept away again, and to the doorway of the cafe where Dee and I frequented. No one paid any mind to my touchdown from the sky with a duffle bag and a cat carrier in tow. If they were able to see anything out of the ordinary, perhaps they knew that it would be best to keep to themselves about what they were seeing. A man with these items in tow, and hair as unkempt as I assumed mine was, was not a man you wanted to ask about his intentions.
I entered with my carry-on luggage, and was not surprised to find that Dee was already here. I was surprised to see what action he was engaged in. Dee was leaning over the end counter where drinks were delivered, and was chatting up his barista crush, Sheena. It was evident that Sheena was not adverse to his attentions either.
I watched in amusement as Dee spoke low, and gestured to various items behind the counter. Sheena was smiling and holding the items Dee indicated up so that he could further inspect them, and was speaking a low tone that I assumed was breathily describing how each item combined to further the drink making process.
Dee was more than suave and handsome enough to be able to charm Sheena on his own, but I figured being his wingman would be a nice gesture of goodwill if nothing else. I walked over with my cat and bag in hand, and as they both turned to acknowledge my presence I realized immediately that I’d made an error in thinking I would contribute anything to this exchange.
With all the awkwardness in tow, I gestured to my carrier and said: “I moved out.”
Sheena nodded in polite appreciation.
“I’m…going to go sit,” I said, motioning vaguely to our usual corner table.
As I set about in that direction, Orpheus, within his carrier, mewed sadly. Dee turned back to Sheena and said a few more low spoken words, grasped her hand briefly over the counter, and placed a chivalric kiss upon the skin of her wrist, and then walked to join me at the table with Sheena’s light smile following him.
Dee threw the tail of his trenchcoat out behind him as he sat, and bent low to look into the carrier where Orpheus was.
“You’re looking well,” he said to me.
“I would say the same to you. How’re things going with Sheena?”
“Swimmingly,” Dee said, looking her direction with a smile as he confirmed this. “We went out two nights ago, and then again last night. She’s a kind soul, and funny as well. We’ve made plans to see each other tonight when she gets off work.”
“That’s great!” I said, only a touch too loud as Sheena’s co-worker brought me my sandwich and drink.
“It’s been fun so far. Not the traditional courtship I’m used to, but…ah well,” he said, trailing off.
“What does that mean? Did you take her to a bar or something?” I asked, but then I saw Dee’s wry smile, and it dawned on me.
“You guys…you and Sheena…did ya’ll ‘do it’?” I asked.
Dee actually snorted.
“What a childish way of putting it, Jorge.”
“So that’s a ‘yes?’”
He sighed and said: “Yes. We slept together. I was adverse to such rush, but my worries were in vain. She was still fond of me in the morning. Thank goodness.”
I chuckled and ate a bite of my lunch. “You’re something else, Dee.” I said.
He shrugged as though to say, “oh well.”
“Did you go and see your mother today?” He asked.
“Yes, but she already had a visitor when I showed up; an unwelcome one too, I might add.”
Dee lost his floppy look that had persisted after his interaction with Sheena, and sat up straighter as he leaned in to hear me.
“Azazal is stepping up his efforts to get me out of the way, and you as well if he gets the chance. He’s offered me some kind of a deal to stay out of the way.”
“…and it involves your mother,” Dee finished. “I’m not surprised. He always plays the same hand. He always has considered attachment and emotion to be weaknesses, and he’ll grasp at these because he knows that he has nothing else otherwise. It’s a good thing that he has no real power to harm the living. His threats are idle.”
“He said he knows when she’s going to die, and says he’ll be there to try and take her if I don’t back down. Can he do that? Does he really know?”
Dee was silent a moment, looking at my lunch and considering his next words.
“I’m sure that if he says he knows, then he does. And he will try to take her when it is that time.”
Orpheus began to paw at the carrier, and let out a low whine. I took the rest of the turkey from my sandwich and pushed it into the flap of the carrier for him as I said: “I can’t let him. I’ve got to know when it is so I can fight him off and protect her. I mean…you understand, Dee. You’ll tell me when it is and give me that chance, right?”
I didn’t realize I was begging until I had finished and there was only silence between us as I waited for Dee’s answer. I was either at the mercy of Azazal or at the mercy of Dee. I had no control, and no way of yet knowing when my mother would be in danger of having her soul taken. And so yes, I was pleading with Death, my friend, for assistance to help the powerlessness I now felt. And Dee was giving me a pitying look too. It made my heart thump hard in my chest, as I anticipated his refusal.
“If you do not know, and that knowledge has not touched you, I cannot in good conscience tell you that day and time. The knowledge of knowing that piece of information about someone you loved so dearly would destroy who you are. You’d become bitter, anxious, and as ruthless as Azazal wants you to be. I will not tell you because you have asked before, in another time, for another loved one, and when I felt compassion to tell you the information…it changed everything,” he said, pausing to shake his head free of the memory ath was working on him. “It was after I told you the once, and you lost the loved one, that you decided you did not want to cycle again and did not want to even Be.”
“So, I’m just supposed to wait it out? Knowing she could die any day, I’m just supposed to kick back and wait for Azazal to swoop down on her?” I said, not bothering with a quiet voice now.
“It’s what the rest of the world does. It’s what you would do if you were human. There is really no other alternative, and I would like to think you are not waiting on your mother’s death per se, but rather spending time with her when an end just happens to find her.
“I’m an unexpected visitor, and almost always unwelcome,” he said, oh so tragically that I couldn’t be angry with him for sticking by his guns when he was obviously universally despised.
He started talking again: “I will not tell you what you want to know, but I can promise that when it is time to take your mother, I will be there and will do all I can to keep Azazal from seeking your pain by taking her. You’ll be there too. She will not be alone. She will not have anything to fear because I am nothing to fear to anyone but Azazal. And if he attempts to take your mother into his viper’s den, then he truly will know fear.”
I believed him. I believed in the power of Death, and I didn’t want to be on the other side of that. I had a friend in Dee, and I could trust that he and I would work together so that my fears for my mother’s end would not come to any realization. The best case scenario in all this was the morbid reality that my mother would die, and therefore not exist as I knew her. But the silver lining that was worth fighting for is that she would live again, she would exist again as young girl or boy, and she’d get to experience the wild ride of being all over again. I was actually excited for her, and anticipated being able to see that happen. It was a grim optimism I was developing.